Chewing on a Critique
Everyone who writes wants to be told how wonderful they are. There are few things that inspire a giddy elation quite like being told you are wonderful and talented.
If I get a review, or if during an interview some wonderful things are said, oh joy, oh bliss, oh happy day. I can wander about for hours afterward basking in my own umm, brilliance, yeah, that’s it.
But it doesn’t always help.
A writer, a creator of any sort learns and grows not from the praise, but from the intelligent commentary that makes us better. Not all critiques should be glowing, not all comments should be a praise. If they are then you are either more brilliant than the Sun, or more likely, not asking the right people.
Mom says I’m brilliant. So does my best friend Steve, and the other day so did this girl I met at the coffee shop.
But are they good critics?
There are two types of negative criticisms you will get.
The worst are the trolls, the angry, the jealous and the unskilled. They tend to be easy to spot because they will offer nothing of substance, no intelligent commentary. Insults may be tossed out, pointless comments that are lacking any substance about what was written.
It will continue to happen.
Get over it, have a laugh at them and move on.
Do not make the mistake of lumping anyone who disagrees with you into this category. This is a huge mistake, a constant one, the worst one you will make.
“You’re story sucks!”
This is a troll.
“You’re story sucks because all the characters were named Bob, they spent all 18,000 words sitting in a circle muttering incoherently, and they never spelled out their numbers, they used the numeric numbers showing they are amateurs at writing. Develop a plot sometime!”
This is NOT a troll.
Even if you hate their opinion, their comment, their conclusion, you have to show some appreciation. They spent the time and effort at least giving you some feedback you can use. They pointed out some things that may be technically wrong. They commented on your style and usage. They took the time to give you their opinion as a reader.
And guess what….
The readers matter.
Honest, they do. They really do.
If you are just writing for yourself, for your own ego, your own aggrandizement, your own pretentiousness, well, ‘I gots some bad news fer ya’. You will never be happy as a writer. You will never be happy because you will never get published by anyone serious. You may self-publish, you may get the odd small acceptance, the occasional one-off, but you will never be a great writer for the simple reason that writers write for readers.
Yes, I know, and I insert a large ‘sigh’ here. We all write for ourselves. The great way to find truth is to write for yourself. That said, we also write for the readers, gentle readers, noble readers, cash-paying readers who fill our pockets and help us eat.
CRITIQUE SURVIVAL MANUAL
- A work is posted. You wait. The first criticism arrives.
- You read the criticism and then reread it.
- Make a careful determination, is it just an insult or is there useful advice?
- You DO NOT have to agree with it, in part or in whole for it to be useful.
- If it is just an insult, ignore it, laugh at it, move on.
- If it is useful, learn from it, consider what is said, they may be right.
- DO NOT act like a spoiled princess, and whine because it does not say you are great.
- Consider it carefully, compare other stories, compare other critiques.
- Apply the knowledge as required.
- Be a better writer.
A number of years go I had a woman ask me to review her autobiography. My first question to her was “Who are you, and why are you important enough to spend twenty dollars on?”
She didn’t like that question.
I explained to her that this is a basic truth about biographies. People only want to buy ones about someone famous, infamous, world renown. She was an unremarkable woman living a rather small life in a rather small town. What made her story worth the cost of buying it?
I told her to stop.
I told her not only to stop writing it, but to erase it, or at least keep it hidden somewhere that no one will ever find it. You see, gentle reader, she was not writing a bio per se. She was writing a litany of complaints against her family. It was her life story of whine. He magnum opus of bitching. She wanted every single member of her family to know how badly they had treated her. How they had ignored or been mean to her, etc.
She hated my criticism. She hated everything I had to say and she refused to listen. She took all the advice she was given and threw it out. Instead she finished it, printed it and gave it to one of them to read. Within weeks it had circulated through the family. Everyone was offended, enraged, disgusted and in the end she had almost totally isolated herself.
Because she was operating on ego alone. She was so focused on her own wants she ignored the wants of the readers, her audience. I don’t know if things ever got better for her professionally or personally. One thing I am pretty sure of is this.
Even though my critique told her not to do this, I bet she still hates my criticism.
A bit of an extreme example I admit. Not quite the same as saying “Stop writing in the past tense”, “Stop writing in the first person.”
I hope you get what I mean.
I have found the very worst, the most awful thing a writer can be told is “That’s nice” or nothing at all. We need to grow, all of us. We need to learn and to experience and to develop. We need to become the best writers we can be, and we are not going to do that through only listening to praise.
We become better writers by learning to chew on our critiques.